The No. 4 Minnesota State Mavericks men’s hockey slipped past the Bemidji State Beavers in the final two games of the regular season, winning the WCHA Conference and bringing home the MacNaughton Cup.
The series was as tight as the Mavericks have played all season, with a 1-0-1 record over the weekend against the Beavers. Headed into the season, the Beavers two options against the Mavericks was outshooting them or bogging them down.
Coming out of this weekend, the Beavers played the Mavericks the best of any two-game opponent. This season, the Beavers pulled off something no other squad was able to accomplish: they held the Mavericks to two goals in back to back nights.
No other team this season has been able to throw a wrench in the Mavericks offensive works in two nights. Despite getting blown out in two games against MSU back in November or coming in as the underdog, the Beavers hung with the Mavericks for two nights.
The Mavericks edged out the Beavers 2-1 and then settled for the 2-2 tie later in the weekend. Bemidji was the far more efficient offense, getting outshot 33-27 and 35-18 but kept pace with MSU on the scoreboard 4-3 over the pair of games. The saving grace of the Mavericks was the penalty trouble for Bemidji, who posted nine penalties in two games.
In the first game, the Beavers lead 1-0 until Marc Michaelis tied the game. It was a Dallas Gerads power-play goal late in the second period that gave MSU the game-winning goal.
In game two, the power-play scoring was even more clutch for the Mavericks, with a C.J. Suess goal in the third period cutting into the 2-0 deficit which Bemidji had built. With their backs against the wall, Suess was able to feed Michaelis the puck for a short-handed goal to tie the game. After stalemating the overtime period, the Mavericks escaped with a tie on the record.
“Having to play against Bemidji from behind is not a sound recipe to have success, so I want to give them credit,” said Mavericks head coach Mike Hastings after the tying performance. “But I also want to give our guys credit for finding a way to come back late and get it tied. We had some opportunities late and didn’t capitalize on them but I thought it was big to get back and find a way to tie the game.”
Beavers goaltender Michael Bitzer outplayed the Mavericks offense, holding off the better part of 68 shots to keep his team close. The Beavers also fended off multiple penalties to keep themselves in the game and took advantage of the few opportunities the stingy Mavericks defense allowed.
Now MSU is headed to the postseason, hosting the Alaska Nanooks for the first round of the WCHA playoffs. While the Mavericks had a 10-game winning streak before the tie to finish the season, the Mavericks enter the playoffs a bit shaky. The Beavers were the superior team all weekend, which gave teams the blueprint for slowing down the Mavericks high octane offense. The underwhelming showing to finish the season from the Mavericks gives the Nanooks a crack in what was a closed door.
Photo: (Courtesy of wcha.com)